The following is the second installment in a series of stories that’ll examine the Packers’ roster position by position. This installment examines the running backs.
GREEN BAY—It’ll be one of the feature attractions of training camp, and it might put the big play back into the Packers offense.
Rookie draft picks Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin join holdover James Starks, Alex Green and DuJuan Harris in a running backs competition this summer that has been promised by Head Coach Mike McCarthy to produce a better result than in 2012.
“We’ll be better; I promise you. You can write that down,” McCarthy told reporters following a OTAs practice in June.
The Packers were 20th in the league in rushing last season. What seemed to be missing the most in the Packers’ rushing attack was the respect from opposing defenses that would cause them to commit an extra defender to the line of scrimmage. Opponents trained their attention on Aaron Rodgers and denying the big pass play, and the Packers’ running game failed to drag opponents out of that strategy.
“If we can get them to add a player to the box, that’ll help the pass game,” Packers Running Backs Coach Alex Van Pelt said.
In that pursuit, the Packers selected Lacy in the second round and Franklin in the fourth round of this past spring’s draft. Lacy is a big, hard-charging inside runner; Franklin has open-field skills that produced 1,700 yards rushing at UCLA last year.
“They’re going to help us. They add competition to the room. They’re two different styles of runners. They’ll add two different styles to the room,” Van Pelt said.
In his fourth season, Starks hopes to regain the promise he displayed as a rookie in the Packers’ run to the Super Bowl title three years ago. He was productive in 2011 while sharing carries with Ryan Grant, but injuries dogged Starks throughout 2012.
Green was in his comeback season last year from knee reconstruction in his rookie season, 2011. It’s expected that he’ll be fully recovered and ready to defend his starter’s status, which he had to surrender late in the season to Harris, who showed quickness and burst in the final few games of the season.
Fullback John Kuhn remains a special assignment type of runner, and undrafted rookie free agent Angelo Pease also joins the competition.
Should Packers running backs improve the position, as McCarthy promised, quarterback Aaron Rodgers could find one fewer deep defender in the coverage, and that would allow more space for Packers receivers to get open deep, as they did in 2011. Rodgers’ yards per pass attempt declined by nearly a yard and a half last year.
“It had an effect,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of the Packers’ inability to scare teams with the run. “In previous years, our action pass game was better.
“We want to run the ball better. If we do run the ball better, we’ll probably run the ball more. It’ll prevent the defense from teeing off on the passer. We have to be effective running the ball,” Clements said.
Previously featured in "Countdown to camp":
QBs - Rodgers on pace for greatness